In the United States, the issue of weight management has become a significant concern, with a substantial portion of the population facing challenges related to being overweight or obese.
The weight and body composition of Americans have seen a startling change during the past few decades. The once-enviable lean and trim image of the average American has undergone a significant decline and given way to the prevalence of excess weight and obesity, painting a bleak picture of our nation’s health. As the years went by, a perfect storm of societal, cultural, and lifestyle changes paved the way for a significant shift in the body composition of the average individual.
In today’s article, we will look at the progression of this growth, tracing its origins to before the early 1960s, and we will discuss current statistics regarding overweight and obese Americans and the factors contributing to this serious problem.
How Overweight Is The Average American Today?
In the 1960s and 1970s, only a very small number of American children and adults were overweight or obese (13%). In the mid- to late 1980s, that rate began to rise, and interestingly, this shift seemed to coincide with the reduced price and increased availability of sugar after the war, the availability of processed foods, and other shifts that affected the American food supply.
Being overweight is generally defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9. It’s a precursor to obesity, which involves a higher BMI of 30 or above. This means that nearly one-third of American adults fall into the overweight category based on their BMI.
Since 1999, the CDC reports that the rate of adult obesity has gone up from 30.5% to 42.4%, while class III obesity (severely obese) has more than doubled. In recent years, there has also been a notable surge in childhood obesity, with a staggering 20% or more of children falling into the obese category within the age range of 2 to 19. A noteworthy observation the CDC also reported was that the rate of overweight and obesity was comparable across all age categories, both genders, and all significant ethnic groupings, including Caucasian, African, and Mexican Americans. This would serve to suggest that the factors that contributed to the rising rate of overweight and obese individuals were universal.
How Did Americans Become Overweight And Obese?
Much research has been conducted to attempt to get a handle on why the overweight and obesity rates in the U.S. continue to rise. This growing epidemic has far-reaching effects on the health and well-being of the entire population of this country and the world. It has been classified as the second most common preventable cause of premature death and is related to a number of conditions, including depression, diabetes, arthritis, sleep apnea, heart disease, liver illness, stroke, and more. The staggering medical costs associated with overweight and obese individuals in the US were close to $173 000 000 000 in 2019 and are even higher now.
Most Americans had generally healthy body weights in the early 1960s. There was a strong emphasis on eating at home, watching one’s portions, and leading active lifestyles. Most meals were cooked from scratch using whole, locally sourced foods, and milk was still delivered daily from a fresh source in many parts of the country. Most children spent the majority of their time outside playing, and video games only existed in their imagination.
There are some well-known factors that have contributed to the percentage of overweight Americans, and other causes are still being studied. Some of these factors include:
- Sedentary behaviors
- Over the years, Americans have become more sedentary. Automation has taken many manual jobs that provide a person with a degree of physical activity, and working at a desk is more prevalent. Children growing up in the “age of electronics” tend to prefer to sit inside and play on their devices or watch television as opposed to getting any exercise.
- Changing food sources
- The food supply has changed over the years, and one of the biggest changes is that most of America’s small and medium-sized farms turned into huge industrial factories developed to raise, contain, and butcher animals as cheaply and effectively as possible.
Smaller family-owned farms often struggle to keep up with the rising costs of modern equipment, technology, and infrastructure required to remain competitive. Farmers and their families rely on the proceeds from their harvest or livestock to cover their living expenses, and many have been forced to abandon their ventures and find alternate work.
In 1994, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced into our food supply in an effort to preserve crops and yield a hearty harvest; however, this has also coincided with a noticeable increase in obesity rates. While there are many who completely oppose GMO foods, the “jury is still out” regarding how they can affect an individual’s health or weight.
The volume of food that is imported into the US has significantly increased over the years. In 2020, the United States imported approximately $148 billion worth of agricultural products. However, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this figure will increase to $194 billion in 2022. Approximately half of the agricultural imports in the United States consist of horticultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and other similar items.
- Dietary patterns
- The consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods, often high in sugars and unhealthy fats, has become more common. Fast food, sugary beverages, and processed snacks contribute significantly to excess calorie intake. Some examples include:
- Ultra-processed foods
- Pre-packaged, processed foods and fast foods are readily available, and according to a recent study conducted by a specialized division of Northeastern University, a staggering 73 percent of the food supply in the United States falls under the category of ultra-processed. Most American families utilize these food choices for the sake of time and convenience.
The Northeastern team created a database that can be used by the public to help them choose healthier food options while shopping. The team was surprised at how misinformed the American public was regarding the nutritional value or how “healthy” a food item was because they were not accurately evaluating them and placing importance on one nutrient rather than looking at it as a “whole”. The TrueFood database records and compares the degree of processing the listed foods have undergone. Different elements are rated such as concealed ingredients and additives and given a numeric score with a benchmark of 100.
The study went on to discuss some health implications associated with processed foods. A study in France found a connection between highly processed foods and an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup
- Statistics show that in the late 1970s, the average American consumed around 124.6 pounds of sugar per year, and by the late 1980s, that number had increased to almost 133 pounds, and by the late 1990s, it was up to 154 pounds.
Also, in recent years, there has been a notable transition from sucrose to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a commonly used sweetener.
- Sugar-laden beverages and soft drinks
- A number of surveys conducted related to the American diet have revealed a significant surge in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages between the years 1977 and 1996, with many individuals relying on soft drinks as a quick source of energy. Another study indicated that just one extra daily serving of a sugar-laden beverage can amount to a weight gain of between 27 and 49 pounds. The study went on to insinuate that these beverages may be a large factor contributing to the epidemic of obesity currently plaguing our nation.
- Portion sizes
- Larger portion sizes at restaurants and in packaged foods can lead to overeating. People may unintentionally consume more calories than they realize.
- Environmental and socioeconomic factors
- Communities with limited access to fresh, affordable, and nutritious foods are more likely to rely on cheap, calorie-dense options, contributing to weight gain. Lower-income individuals may have limited access to healthier foods and opportunities for physical activity.
- Advertising and marketing
- The pervasive marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, often targeted at vulnerable populations, can influence dietary choices. Since the early 1970s, questionable marketing tactics such as the use of subliminal messaging hidden in the content of TV commercials have been employed to entice consumers.
- Psychological factors
- More recently, emotional eating, stress, and a lack of coping mechanisms have been identified as promoting overeating and unhealthy eating habits.
Strategies That Can Help Reduce The Percentage Of Overweight Americans
- Raising awareness about healthy eating habits, portion control, and the importance of regular physical activity can empower individuals to make healthier choices;
- Improving access to fresh, nutritious foods, especially in underserved communities, can play a pivotal role in reducing overweight rates;
- Encouraging regular physical activity through community initiatives, workplace programs, school initiatives, and improved community planning can help counteract sedentary lifestyles. (walking trails, bike trails, more parks and playgrounds, etc.);
- Implementing policies that promote healthier food options in schools, workplaces, and public spaces, as well as considering regulations on advertising unhealthy foods, can have a positive impact.
Over the decades, changes in dietary habits, lifestyles, and societal norms have all been factors that have contributed to the ever-growing numbers of overweight and obese Americans.
The prevalence of overweight individuals in the United States is on the rise, which emphasizes the significance of adopting a comprehensive strategy to successfully address the underlying causes of this problem. Individuals, communities, businesses, and legislators need to work together to promote a culture that values healthier lifestyles by lobbying for greater accessibility to nourishing foods and advocating for education that emphasizes nutrition and maintaining a healthy BMI.
If you are struggling with your weight, as you can see from this article, you are not alone. Batash Endoscopic Weight Loss Centers is here to help you improve your health by decreasing your BMI and maintaining a healthy weight. We can create a customized plan that will address the issues and factors that are affecting you as a unique individual.
Our expert professionals can help you with dietary choices, provide guidance with physical activity, and offer medical weight loss interventions if needed. Set up a consultation to learn more about safe and effective weight loss strategies that can benefit you!